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Wilford Brimley Feels His Oats as a Singer

And now, let’s hear it for Wilford Brimley, the jazz-influenced singer.

Huh?

That’s right. Brimley, the well-known character actor and Quaker Oats spokesman, made his nightclub debut Thursday at the Vine St. Bar & Grill in Hollywood.

The actor, known for his roles in such films as “Cocoon,” “The China Syndrome” and “Tender Mercies,” has been singing “a long time,” he said. “Everybody hums tunes and sings songs. I never made a thing about it.”

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A self-effacing sort, Brimley, in that deep, gravelly voice with which he delivers his lines in films and on TV, admitted “I’m not a great singer, I’m really not. I’m getting to work with some great musicians (pianist Bob Smale and bassist Don Bagley) and I get a bigger kick out of being up there with them than singing, frankly.” He has a modest range and talk-sings many of his renditions, a la Rex Harrison, but he can finish a phrase with a round, warm vibrato when he wants to.

Brimley, who closes Saturday, sings classic pop standards, most drawn from his “I’m Old Fashioned” CD (B.C. Productions). His repertoire includes the title song, “My Funny Valentine,” “Bein’ Green,” “It Had to Be You” and “All the Things You Are.”

“I like the American popular song from 1900-1960, with a few exceptions, like ‘Bein’ Green,’ ” the Utah resident said. “My friends and I are here to share the great works of people like Jerome Kern, the Gershwins, Johnny Mercer, those guys. What a gift they’ve given us. I consider those guys as the great American poets. I know I’ll get into a lot of trouble for saying this, but I can’t believe somebody would read Shakespeare when they can read that stuff.”

Brimley, 56, has been rehearsing with Bagley, whose niece he married 34 years ago, for a couple of years. “We just started doing it,” said the actor, who was a horseshoer, horse trainer and stuntman before beginning his acting career with “The China Syndrome” in 1979. “Don wrote the charts and we just have a lot of fun. We allow the music to be the important thing.”

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Is Brimley, who lists Billie Holiday, Dick Haymes, Frank Sinatra and Joe Williams among his influences, worried about how he’s going to come across? “Well, not really,” he said without hesitation. “I just have to show up. The hard work has been done by the songwriters. All I’ve got to do is the best I can to carry the tunes.”

Then, after he’d said that, he considered his words. “You know, I am more than a little bit excited. This is important to me.”

JAZZ GOES TO SCHOOL: The sound of jazz is spreading to four junior high and high school campuses under a program co-sponsored by the International Assn. of Jazz Appreciation (IOAJA) and the Playboy Jazz Festival. On Wednesday, saxman Herman Riley’s foursome played for students of Washington High School in Los Angeles.

Today, the IOAJA Goes to School Band, with bassist Larry Gales and drummer Ndugu Chancler, performs at Sun Valley Junior High in Sun Valley and trumpeter Bobby Rodriguez’s Latin/jazz band entertains the troops at Stevenson Junior High in Los Angeles. The brief series wraps up on Tuesday with a performance by trombonists Buster Cooper and Thurman Green at Canoga Park High in Canoga Park. Following the concerts, which are not open to the public, the musicians will hold clinics for interested students.

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JAZZ FOR SENIORS: The Locke High School Jazz Band today plays a free concert for senior citizens and others who wish to attend at the Watts Labor Action Community Center, 10957 Central Ave., Los Angeles, at 10 a.m.


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